A dining guide for USC and UCLA grads
Graduating from college is kind of a big deal.
After four or more years of midterms and finals, Mom, Dad, and every other relative in the western United States will want to see little Josephine Bruin or little Tommy Trojan shake the dean's hand and move that tassel from right to left.
The big question is: how to feed them all after the ceremony and into the weekend?
We picked 10 restaurants, with a variety of price ranges and cuisines, where UCLA and USC graduates and their families can celebrate a well-deserved brunch or dinner. (And thank goodness that true-blue and cardinal-red blood need not be shed in a battle over one of these restaurants: USC’s graduations begin this weekend on Friday, and UCLA’s are not until mid-June.)
So, class of 2009, after you toss your hats, get ready to fill your bellies:
-- i. Cugini boasts stunning views of the Pacific from both an indoor dining room and a quiet patio. The specialty here is fish, and the chefs adhere to the Italian tradition of whole-fish cooking, a process in which fish is oven-roasted or wood-oven-roasted whole on the bone, and then is deboned and arranged tableside by a server. Its Sunday brunch includes made-to-order omelets and vanilla malt waffles, brick- oven pizzas and a variety of Italian antipasti choices like mortadella and beef carpaccio. Brunch is $49.95. Dinner prices are around $20 to $40 a person. 1501 Ocean Ave., Santa Monica. (310) 451-4595, www.icugini.com; Sunday brunch: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; see website for regular hours.
-- The Pacific Dining Car restaurant in downtown Los Angeles is convenient for USC graduations. The 24-hour restaurant offers traditional steakhouse fare in a railway dining car replica. On the dinner menu is fresh swordfish, cold-water lobster cakes and seemingly every cut of prime, aged corn-fed beef. Prices are between $20 and $30. 1310 West 6th Street, Los Angeles. (213) 483-6000, www.pacificdiningcar.com; Monday to Sunday, 24 hours a day.
-- Palomino is known best among UCLA students for its killer happy-hour deals within walking distance of the campus. But its extensive menu of contemporary American food makes Palomino popular with picky eaters. The menu offers plenty of options, like Roma tomato brick-oven pizza, a hearty selection of fresh seafood and baked pistachio-crusted brie served with pizza crisps. Prices are $20 to $30 a person. Valet parking or garages in walking distance. 10877 Wilshire Blvd., #150, Los Angeles. (310) 208-1960, www.palomino.com; see website for hours.
-- Families who prefer chilaquiles to omelets and margaritas to mimosas should head over to El Cholo on Western, the matriarch of family Mexican restaurants. El Cholo’s alternative brunch offers a less-breakfasty fare of chiles rellenos, ranchero omelets and chicken mole enchiladas, along with a long list of tequilas. A typical bill will run guests about $9 to $12 a person. 1121 S. Western Ave, Los Angeles. (323) 734-2773, www.elcholo.com; Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sunday brunch 11 a.m.-2 p.m.; see website for regular hours.
-- The Sunday brunch at the Gardens at the Four Seasons Hotel is most assuredly a step up from your traditional omelet-and-pancake fare. To give you a preview, the breakfast menu includes brioche French toast with banana-apple compote and huckleberries, Swiss Bircher muesli with banana, raisins and nuts, and the lunch menu features seared scallops and a truffle-scented wild mushroom risotto. This is not for the penny-pinching college student: Brunch is $68 a person. 300 S. Doheny Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 385-4950, www.fourseasons.com; Sunday brunch buffet 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; see website for regular hours.
-- Water Grill is another downtown choice, particularly for seafood lovers. The specialty seafood restaurant offers fresh oysters on the half shell, striped bass ceviche with mint and candied black beans, and seared wild bigeye tuna. Reservations are still available for the USC graduation weekend, and dinner prices run from $20 to $40; a six-course tasting menu is $95. 544 S. Grand, Los Angeles. (213) 891-0900, www.watergrill.com; Monday to Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., Saturdays 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., Sundays 4:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
-- The Belvedere at the Peninsula is another ritzy dining experience. The brunch sampler includes caramelized cashew French toast, Maine lobster tart and “quail egg in hole” with chicken apple sausage and is regularly $59 ($69 with champagne). Jerusalem artichoke bisque, nori-dusted ahi and lobster ravioli with golden chanterelle mushrooms are a few of the choices offered on its regular lunch menu. Brunch is offered Sunday only. 9882 Little Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 975-2736, www.peninsula.com. Sunday brunch 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; see website for regular hours.
-- The Rose Café in Venice is an inexpensive alternative to the white-tablecloth restaurants. Recent grads and families can enjoy the informal atmosphere of the bustling restaurant, bakery, coffeehouse and self-service café market. Brunch is served Saturday and Sunday and includes a vegetarian quiche with asparagus and fontina cheese, and a chicken bean salad with blue lake beans, dried cranberries and walnut oil and white balsamic vinegar. There's an $8-per-person minimum for weekend brunch. 220 Rose Ave., Venice. (310) 399-0711, www.rosecafe.com; see website for regular hours.
-- Gardens on Glendon is another Westwood favorite, serving contemporary American food without treating you like a college student. Large parties with a UCLA graduate have their choice of two dining rooms, a courtyard patio or seating in the barroom for dinner or Sunday brunch. Brunch choices include spicy grilled salmon with chipotle mayo and melon salsa, sliced prime grilled New York steak served on garlic sauteed spinach, and a pear and Stilton cheese salad with sugared walnuts. Even if you forget to make your reservation early, they promise never to turn a UCLA grad away. 1139 Glendon Ave., Los Angeles. (310) 824-1818, www.gardensonglendon.com; Sunday brunch 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; see website for regular hours.
-- Santa Monica’s Chez Mimi recently introduced a Sunday brunch prix-fixe menu of appetizer, entree and dessert for $32.50. The French restaurant’s brunch menu includes choices like chilled cucumber soup, smoked salmon omelet and flourless chocolate cake. 246 26th St., Santa Monica. (310) 393-0558, www.chezmimirestaurant.com; Sunday brunch 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; see website for regular hours.
-- Kelsey Ramos
Photo credit: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times